The Rose of Fire and Brimstone

There comes a time in every child’s life where one must face that dreaded rite of passage: the ambiguous ‘science project.’

bleaching rose

If Sister Madly had known all the loopholes, such as time machine = clock, or better yet, cooking = chemistry, she would have had her mother bake a couple dozen cookies and be done with it. With little hesitation, both parents deemed proving the existence of unicorns impractical to the scientific community, yet supported her decision to dismember her sibling and replace the limbs with butterfly wings so long as Sister Madly was willing to clean up afterwards (which she wasn’t.) In the end, Sister Madly chose an experiment out of some How to Scientifically Take Over the World book that she once found wrapped up under a Christmas tree.

And that experiment was to bleach a rose. With sulfur.*

* The book mysteriously disappeared after the completion of this science project.

red rose

There was some concern about this project from the onset, in particular the obtaining of the roses. After all, Sister Madly knew just how expensive these flowers could be (He got you a dozen roses?! It MUST be love!) which was why they were so treasured. Growing the roses herself was simply out of the question- to this day, plants refuse to photosynthesize in her presence. She decided that her parents’ budget would allow for 3 roses: a practice run, the actual project, and one unbleached rose to compare. She wouldn’t need more than that because science projects always turn out perfectly the first time around- especially when it involves an 8 year-old playing with fire.

Her parents, however, had a slightly different- and, in Sister Madly’s opinion, utterly preposterous- concern: where, dear child, are you going to get the sulfur?


Contrary to popular belief, one does not just pop off to Sulfur Express to get this element, nor does the average citizen keep a stockpile in the garage next to the Harley. And while certain religious texts believe sulfur* to be an important ingredient in the Lake of Fire, neither her parents nor the school board approved of the lengthy, transcendental holiday it would take to obtain the sulfur, much less the destination. Her school wasn’t very Hell-friendly.

*Brimstone = Sulfur


Then again, she once heard that onions contain sulfur, thus saw no reason why setting fire to an onion would not produce the desired effect. Her parents did not agree.

It was her science teacher, through a connection at the local college, who later obtained the sulfur. As Sister Madly now had all the components, she was quite ready to bleach the rose and successfully take over the world.

However: Rose + Chemical + Fire = Father doing the project while Sister Madly watches.

With her father at the reigns, the project went off without a hitch (although it took a total of 5 roses.) But it wasn’t enough for Sister Madly to walk into school the next day and announce that the experiment had been a success; no, not only was she required to turn in the completed project, she was to present it to the class.

red and white rose

What do you mean that Sister Madly has to understand and explain the science behind this project? Isn’t the fact that a rose transformed from red to white in the seclusion of her own backyard with absolutely no witnesses cool enough on its own? The How to Scientifically Take Over the World book didn’t explain how this experiment worked, only that it does work and quite frankly, that’s good enough for her.

Mind you, when all this occurred, the average family was still several years away from regular internet access. Sister Madly didn’t know any pro-science adults who could explain to her the sulfur phenomenon (she wasn’t very social) and didn’t know where to begin researching it in the library (not that she had any desire to do so.) Faced with these impossible options, Sister Madly decided that it was necessary to bluff her way through, figuring that if she threw enough scientific-sounding words around, she would pass.


And bluff she did, attributing the bleaching phenomenon to static electricity: when exposed to fire in an enclosed area, the sulfur produces an electrical charge which causes its particles to cling to the rose, thus turning it white.

It is not known whether the teacher bought this snake oil sales pitch, or whether he simply admired her audacity, but that day Sister Madly adjourned for recess with not only with a passing grade, but the confidence that school was a waste of time as her science teacher was no more wiser than she.

20+ years later, Sister Madly finally knows the science behind this experiment.* It hasn’t enhanced her life in the slightest.

* When sulfur burns it produces sulfur dioxide- which acts as a bleaching agent- reducing the pigments, thus turning the rose white. Re-oxidizing the reduced pigments restores the color, which can be as simple by exposing the reduced dyes to the oxygen in the atmosphere.




17 responses

  1. Thanks for this story….or blast from the past if you will…:) AH I remember those science projects fondly…. I had a few… I wanted to try the ” Schrodingers Cat” experiment but instead using Schrondinger himself ….. ( don’t you dare hurt that cat!) . Sadly Mr. Erwin kept escaping from the box….he’s was pretty fast for an old man…

    Liked by 2 people

    June 23, 2016 at 6:36 AM

    • It is entirely possible to be both alive and dead simultaneously as I do it all the time: it’s called ‘morning.’

      FYI- Mr. Erwin is hiding out with the Keebler elves.

      Liked by 3 people

      June 23, 2016 at 11:45 AM

      • You are very correct on the ‘morning’ event. I am a zombie …..I go through that phase every day… I need to imbibe “brains” in a cup …called coffee before I can properly function and regain my motor skills…. 🙂

        FYI – I am on the look out now for a tree with an open window and little Red and White sign….:) Thanks!

        Liked by 2 people

        June 23, 2016 at 12:17 PM

  2. Lol!! “Plants don’t photosynthesize in her presence” – you are a scream SM!! Thanks for my 2 hr to midnight laugh!!😂

    Liked by 2 people

    June 23, 2016 at 7:41 AM

  3. Z.

    This was a joy to read. I love the spirited nature of Sister Madly. The recounting of her first suggested projects painted a beautiful portrait of mischievous -yet good hearted- girl willing to take on the world.

    Thank you for sharing this!

    Liked by 2 people

    June 23, 2016 at 8:14 AM

    • Thank you!!

      It’s unfortunate, however, that no matter how much of the world is conquered, I still have to do my own laundry. So unfair.

      Liked by 2 people

      June 23, 2016 at 12:07 PM

  4. Ha! Quite brilliant. To bleach a rose with sulphur, that’s ingenious. We actually helped one of the kids built a unicorn trap for science, but it was a trap for a tiny unicorn. I enjoyed that project.

    Very funny about the snake oil and the teacher. I faked my way through a few things. Really awful, I once doodled on a multiple choice test and colored in all the boxes to make a heart. I somehow got a B+.

    Liked by 2 people

    June 23, 2016 at 7:45 PM

    • I think it is easier to sell Snake Oil now than it was a hundred years ago!

      Multiple Choice answers in the shape of a heart- you were cheated! That is without a doubt an A! One remembers art/beauty before they remember facts- what kind of people are running our country?!?

      Liked by 2 people

      June 23, 2016 at 8:16 PM

  5. Cool! I love that you included the science answer for us fake geeks out here.
    I was never that ambitious with science projects. The only one I remember (that I thought up myself) was seeing if a root vegetable that had sprouted from its cut-off top would grow more in the ground after planting than it already had in a dark corner somewhere. It got mown off before I got an answer–but I duly noted this down and was rewarded with a B.

    Liked by 2 people

    June 26, 2016 at 10:24 AM

  6. I’ve said it before – SM makes learning fun! I myself had a chemistry set as a child way younger than a child should have chemicals to play with. I’ve been told rather too often that I usually got whatever I demanded. My favorite chemical from my set was potassium nitrate. To this day I have no idea what that is or what it does. But I thought it sounded sort of evil, and so it was my favorite. I did an experiment once on my little brother to see if it would successfully poison him. It was difficult holding him down, but I did manage to complete my experiment. I watched him closely for days, but I couldn’t see that it had any effect on him. He did start having fits and unexplained shrieking events shortly after. But I think that had more to do with the football helmet / baseball bat experiment. I feel very close to SM.

    Liked by 1 person

    June 26, 2016 at 2:46 PM

    • What are siblings for, if not to be used as scientific guinea pigs?

      Potassium nitrate- doesn’t that have something to do with explosives? It’s true that ‘nitrate’ sounds much more delightfully evil than ‘chloride.’

      Ok- a quick google search revealed that Potassium nitrate is a chem compound found in (amongst other things) fireworks, fertilizers, and as a food preservative (thank you FDA.) Perhaps one of the aforementioned is the reason behind your brother’s immunity?

      I would think that a football helmet would make one feel safe around a baseball bat, but then, younger siblings can be unfathomable.

      Liked by 2 people

      June 26, 2016 at 4:39 PM

  7. So… self-fertilizing explosive food preservatives. I’m sure that must be a good idea. It does sound efficient. Puts me in mind of an ancient SNL routine – “It’s a floor wax; it’s a dessert topping!” And all these millennia later my brother is still able to feed and dress himself. So, no harm done.

    Liked by 3 people

    June 26, 2016 at 6:06 PM

    • ‘Self-fertilizing explosive food preservatives’ I believe that is the official definition of the Twinkie.

      However, something deep within me trusts the ancient SNL delicacy more.

      Liked by 2 people

      June 26, 2016 at 7:40 PM

If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.